While many .22 rifles will work for biathlon, there are some rules to follow and some characteristics of a biathlon-specific rifle that will allow you to be competitive. Scopes are not used, only “aperture sights.” The rifle must weigh at least 7.7 pounds and should use five-shot magazines, with a magazine holder attached to the stock. For winter racing, a harness allows the competitor to carry the rifle on their back while skiing.
Buying a suitable rifle can cost $1,000 or more. Once you have made that investment, though, you will have only race fees and ammunition to buy. Since the rifles tend to hold their value well, you can usually sell one for at least as much as you paid for it, should you decide to get out of the sport later. Initially, of course, you can use a club rifle. But, if you decide to race often, you will want to get your own rifle so that you can customize the fit, learn its idiosyncrasies and have something to practice with on your own.
At most club venues in the U.S. the targets used for biathlon are steel “knock-down” targets: five black, steel paddles in a row behind a white, steel plate with five holes . When one is hit, it rocks back and a white indicator paddle comes up in its place, showing a “hit.” It also makes a satisfying “clank” that, as a biathlete, you will come to love. The immediate feedback and thrill of dropping targets during a race is something that is hard to beat. Leaving the range knowing you will head straight back out on course is a great feeling, particularly if that hot shot you started behind is headed for the penalty loop.
Many of those competing in biathlon in this country are adults, but that is changing. As the sport has grown, more and more junior biathletes have come on the scene. There are a lot of parent-child biathlete pairs attending races these days, and we see kids as young as eight participating with a parent. Sometimes mom or dad just helps out as an official. It can be a great way to be engaged in an activity with your child.
Disabled athletes also compete in the sport, a truly inspiring thing to see. There is also no shortage of men and women in their 40s, 50s, 60s and beyond having a great time doing biathlon. That’s not surprising. It really is a lot of fun.
Find a club near you (see sidebar) and visit their web site. Send an email to one of the contact people and ask how to get involved. Many clubs have specific “intro” days, but most will help you get started at just about any event they have on their schedule. You will find a safety conscious, fun-loving group of people who enjoy a challenge. And you just might find yourself…. on the podium!